God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Of this I am sure.
Today at General Conference was surreal. That's the best word I've got at the moment. Surreal. I'm pretty sure that I've never felt the way I felt this morning, and I don't really have the words to describe it.
At the end of the day, two very significant things have happened.
1) The General Conference has take the Council of Bishops' advice, and approved their "Offering for a Way Forward."
2) The Judicial Council has ruled unconstitutional the petitions that would have established mandatory penalties for what is known as the "just resolution" process.
First, the Way Forward. The particular components of the bishops' idea are...
- There will be no more legislation debated at this General Conference that has to do with human sexuality.
- All of those petitions that would have been debated will be referred to a special commission, formed by the Council of Bishops.
- This commission's task will be "to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality."
- There is a possibility that a specially called session of the General Conference will be held prior to 2020 to address the work of this commission.
Secondary themes of the bishops' idea are...
- The bishops will continue to support the creation of a "General Book of Discipline" for the global church, implying more contextual books of discipline for various areas of the world.
- This: "We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline." I'm not 100% sure what that means, and I don't really think anyone is.
Historically speaking, this was the first time in anyone's memory where the General Conference asked for this kind of direction from the bishops. And needless to say it's the first time the General Conference has gotten this level of specificity from the bishops. Their role, traditionally, is just to preside.
That was, in fact, the first thing they said to us, yesterday morning. "It is our role to preside. You as the body of the General Conference need to decide what to do."
I for one was very pleased they offered their non-binding idea to us, and pleased that we accepted it. I don't love it; I don't hate it. It seems to be just fine. I'm eager for the commission to begin their work.
Secondly, the unconstitutional ruling. There are more than a few petitions submitted this year that would have made the UMC less open, and more rigid in our thinking. Several of those would have imposed automatic penalties for pastors who admitted to transgressing the Book of Discipline, in particular when it comes to officiating same-sex weddings.
A request was made to the Judicial Council as to the constitutionality of those petitions, and they were ruled unconstitutional. That means we won't even consider them at this General Conference. Automatic penalties have been officially declared unconstitutional.
Both of these actions today are good news for those who favor a more inclusive church. However, it should be noted that there are many who feel the more conservative faction of the UMC will make some kind of parliamentary maneuver tomorrow to attempt to reverse the actions that we took today. We shall see what happens tomorrow.
It was an amazing day. Surreal. Unprecedented. And I'm humbled and honored to be a part of it. I love this church, and I believe our future is only limited by the depth of our commitment to make it a reality. We will be processing the decisions made at this General Conference for days, weeks, and months to come. I can't help but think that this 2016 Conference will be remembered as a significant historical moment in the history of the United Methodist Church.